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The First Quarter of the ''Golden Age of Paper Toys,'' 1800 to 1825, by Blair & Margaret Whitton

Updated: Apr 5, 2020

The 19th century should be considered the "Golden Age of Paper Toys." Ingenuity and variety of toys published and the artistry and depth of color reached their highest level during this period.

19 Century Paper Dolls
S. & J. Fuller's paper doll booklet titled Frank Feignwell's Attempts to Amuse His Friends on Twelfth Night. Dated 1811.

Source: May 1990 • DOLL READER • The Ultimate Authority. Pages 56-62


The 19th century should be considered the "Golden Age of Paper Toys." Ingenuity and variety of toys published and the artistry and depth of color reached their highest level during this period. We see the best in hand-coloring and later, the finest examples of color lithography. This was 100 years of great changes. It was the period of the Industrial Revolution. Here we will concern ourselves with the first quarter of this century, 1800 to 1825.

One man who did much to promote the availability of a variety of paper toys in the last few years of the 1700s and into the early 1800s was Georg Hieronimus Bestelmeier of Nurnberg, Germany. Bestelmeier was a merchant who issued a large black and white catalog of novelties, toys, scientific objects and other items. His 1803 catalog showed and listed 1200 saleable objects. lllustrations 1 through 3 present a variety of paper toys that he offered. Bestelmeier's catalog also listed scores of games, the majority of which were educational. Listed here are a few examples, with brief descriptions as shown in the 1803 catalog.

1. "A natural history A, B, C game in Latin and German for spelling to­gether with thorough instructions for Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. This was for children of all ranks. There are also 26 nicely illuminated copper plates drawn after nature."

2. "A Historical Game with 24 sheets, which contains pictures of famous scenes from history."

3. "A Banker's Game with various il­lustrated game boards."

4. "A New Charade Game for the useful entertainment of company, also for teachers and educators, to be used with their pupils."

5. "A Lottery Game of letters and words for children and grownups with 24 colored sheets."

6. "A Revolution or Mathematical Triangle Game with 32 triangles and a picture of the Bastille with instruc­tions in French and German."

In an effort to stay in a somewhat chronological order, mention should be made that paper dolls, educational cards and board games plus puzzles continued to be published in greater volume during the 1800s.

History of Paper Toys and Dolls
From the Bestelmeier 1803 catalog, item number 48: "The French Card Game has eight cards. They are painted on both sides like Tarroe Cards. When someone thinks of one card selected, one can guess this card through the arrangement of other cards. An enclosed printed sheet with the rules tells how to proceed."

The first commercially published paper doll originated in England and other publishers soon offered their ideas for paper dolls. One of the early English publishers was S. & J. Fuller of London, which operated an establishment called the "Temple of Fancy.”

They operated both a publishing and retail shop, dealing in paper products. In 1810, S. & J. Fuller offered a small cased booklet containing a moral story with a number of hand-colored cutout cardboard figures. Each figure was equipped with a rear horizontal paper strap at the base of the neck. This would accept the neck of a movable head. The single head was moved from one costume to another as the reader followed the story. Titled The History and Adventures of Little Henry, this early endeavor proved to be an extremely good seller. At least five editions were published in 1810. A companion piece, The History of Little Fanny, appeared in the same year and it, too, survived a number of editions. A number of similar booklets ap­peared the following year: Frank Feignwell's Attempts to Amuse His Friends, The History of Little Ellen or the Naughty Girl Reclaimed and Young Albert, the Roscius. In 1812, Phoebe the Cottage Maid and Hubert the Cottage Boy appeared. These were followed by Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper, History of Lauretta or The Little Savoyard and Lucinda the Orphan or The Costumes. All were published in at least two or three editions.

From the Bestelmeier 1803 catalog, item number 173: "A small Chinese Shadow-Game. It consists of black box in front a velvet curtain. In the rear opening an exchangeable wall can fit in and behind that are two short lights. There, one holds the figures, making movement that fits the speech. If this is skillfully done, the onlookers can see an amusing show from the front. This game has 12 moveable and non-moveable figures.

In 1811, S. & J. Fuller published one of today's most sought after paper dolls, the Protean Figure or Metamorphic Costumes. This male figure had a wardrobe of 12 costumes with accessories, all very complete, some 90 pieces in all. Each costume, along with its appropriate accessories, was enclosed in its own envelope. A 13th envelope contained a colorful backdrop with a slit at the bottom in which the feet of the central figure could be inserted. All 13 envelopes were stored in a fitted slipcase.

In America, a Boston publisher, J. Belcher, offered a Little Fanny in 1812. This was a pirated version of the Fuller rendition. A second American version of Little Fanny appeared in 1821, published by a Mary Charles of 71 South Second Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The price was advertised as "plain 18¾ cents, colored 25 cents."

The third American edition of The History of Little Fanny appeared in 1825, published by Morgan & Yeager at the Juvenile Bookstore, No 114 Chest­nut Street, Philadelphia. This edition did not have the colored cutout figure, just color plates of Fanny in seven different costumes.

From the Bestelmeier 1803 catalog, item number 218: "The English Model Doll (paper doll) which is a nice entertainment for girls. She is painted on a thin cardboard. You may dress or undress it, the dresses are to be laid on it. In the same way there are also male figures available, also some on horseback, instructions are included."

The tinseled picture was a very in­teresting paper item in vogue in Great Britain during this early period. It was closely related to the paper theater, which also enjoyed immense popularity during the first three-quarters of the 19th century. The tinseled picture was a craft that developed from the theatrical portraits, which had origi­nated in the very early 1800s. The black and white prints showed actors and ac­tresses of the period, dressed as a particular character and posed in a dra­matic position. Each sheet was labeled with the actor's name and the character he or she played. During the period 1810 and on, the idea of painting in the background and decorating the figure with bits of tinsel, ribbon, feathers, bits of cloth and other items, caught on. This art form developed into a popular pastime for young people.

During the same period that the tinseled pictures enjoyed much popu­larity, the paper theater was equally accepted. The English theater was enjoyed by the people of London, so why wouldn't their children accept it in miniature form. Paper theater publishers such as William West were active from 1811 to 1836. J. K. Green worked for West, learned the trade and went into business for himself. Competitors such as Hodgson & Company, in business from 1822 to 1830, published nearly 70 plays. A number of smaller publishers were active in this early period.

S. & J. Fuller's paper doll booklet titled Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper. Dated 1819, contains the story in verse. Cinderella's head is moved from character to character as the story is read. Shown are six costumes and the Royal Coach.

The German publishers were also active during this period. Most of the plays were published strictly for chil­dren to enjoy, usually adapted from light opera or from fairy tales. The "Ombres Chinoise Theater" or shadow theater appeared in various forms dur­ing this time. Its history pre-dates this period, having first appeared in China before the time of Christ. This form of shadow theater found in China and later in Java, Greece and Turkey, was mainly performed for adult audiences. When the shadow theater was introduced in Europe, it was still aimed at adult audiences but was soon published as a toy for children. An early example of an "Ombres Chinoise Theater" for children was illustrated in Bestelmeier's 1803 catalog.

A Boston publisher, J. Belcher, offered his rendition of Little Fanny in 1812.

Paper soldiers were also of great interest. Early paper sheets, showing rows of soldiers, dated as early as the mid 1740s. The first commercially printed soldier sheets were published in Strasbourg, located in Alsace, a territory on the eastern border of France. In the early 1740s, Strasbourg was visited by Louis XV and a company of color­fully uniformed soldiers. A local printer by the name of Seyfried, observed the interest of the townspeople in this visit and he decided to print sheets showing the guards in their colorful uniforms. The idea proved to be a most profitable one for Seyfried and other publishers in Europe who were quick to take up the idea. Some of the prominent publishers or paper soldier sheets that followed were Silbermann, Fischback, Gerhardt and J. F. Striedbeck.

French publishers were also active in the production of paper soldier sheets. The Pellerin family was probably the most prominent in this field. In 1782, Jean-Charles Pellerin (1756 to 1836) purchased a building in Epinal, France, and started printing sheets with illustrations of a religious nature. When Napoleon became a popular fig­ure in France, Jean-Charles' primary production changed from religious subjects to those of Napoleon and his various military campaigns. Pellerin was advised in these military illustrations, as to the authenticity of uniforms and scenes of battle, by engravers who had formerly served under Napoleon.

A fine example of colorful tinseled pictures circa 1815.

The publishing of game boards came about in the 1700s. Men have played board games for more than 4000 years. Board games laid out as a race game, with round tokens, have been found buried in early Egyptian graves. The game of "Goose" seems to have had an early beginning. A similar game was played by the ancient Greeks. The game, as collectors know it today, is called the "Game of Goose." It was developed by Francisco de Medici (1541 to 1587). It was a form of race game in which tokens were moved from point to point, sometimes landing on a hazard and paying a penalty or landing on a reward and receiving a bonus forward move. The roll of a pair of dice determined the move.

In England, early game boards were mounted on canvas or linen after printing and hand-coloring. They then were folded and placed in protective slipcases made of cardboard and identi­fied with a decorative title label. Game instructions were printed on the game itself or on an accompanying booklet.

The following two examples of Eng­lish folding game boards provide a good cross section of games published in this early period. The "Historical Pastime or a New Game of the History of England from the Conquest to the Accession of George III" was published by J. Harris and J. Wallis of London, England. Published in 1803, it was basically an educational game, a circular track game starting at an outside point and working inward, through 157 small circular illustrations to the central point marked George ill. Scores of earlier rulers, prominent people and events all part of English history, are illustrated. The folding game sheet fits into its original protective slipcase. "The Panorama of London or a Days Journey Round the Metropolis" was published by John Wallis in 1810. The circular track game showed 50 small scenes, in­cluding prominent buildings of the period, theaters, monuments, scenes on the river Thames, cathedrals, important gatherings and notable public events, a bit of everyday life in London in the year 1810.

English paper theater proscenium published by Skelt, circa 1830.

The German publishers offered a large number of educational games during this period. Some examples are mentioned in the list taken from Bestelmeier's 1803 catalog. The French, as mentioned before, produced adult games dealing with a military theme and later many had a theme of political propaganda. Later games, instructing the young, became the vogue and a wide variety were available.

Moving on to other types of paper toys, we should mention the "Harlequinade" which made an appearance in America during this period. Titled "Metamorphosis or a Transformation of Pictures," this American "Harlequinade" was published by Samuel Wood & Sons, 357 Pearl Street, Phila­delphia. Printed in black and dated 1816, it has the usual three vertical folds and two horizontal folds. The first of four panels shows Adam and the Serpent coiled around a tree. When the top flap is turned up, the figure becomes Eve, when the bottom flap is turned down, the image becomes a mermaid. The second panel shows a lion standing on his hind legs. When the top flap is lifted up, a griffin appears. When the lower flap is turned down, the griffin becomes an eagle holding an infant in one claw. The third panel shows the young man, who years before, had escaped from the eagle's claw. By lifting the upper flap the young man is shown at a table weighing and counting gold. By dropping the lower tab, a heart is revealed signifying life. The last panel shows an elderly man with a cane. By dropping the lower flap, it shows this man in a sick bed. By raising the upper flap, a skeleton appears, so death comes. The accompanying verse tells the story of Adam and Eve, then the birth, growth, work, old age and death of man.

An unusual paper item called the "Myriorama" or "Endless Change of Landscape"

While a few early paper toys appeared in America before 1825, a variety of them were published in Europe. One unusual item called the "Myr­iorama" or "Endless Change of Landscape," is an intriguing toy. It consists of a series of cards, each showing a part of a landscape. The illustrations were so arranged that horizontal lines on the side edges of all cards matched. Hence the cards may be arranged side by side in any order and always produce a perfect landscape. The cards are engraved and softly hand-colored.

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